Neymar: The next big thing?

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When Pele says you're an "excellent player", it's safe to say you probably have what it takes to succeed at the highest level.

However, a glowing reference from one of the world's greatest players does not guarantee success. Those who have been labelled "the next Pele" have occasionally struggled to live up to expectations, Robinho being the most current case in point, as the legacy of the three-time World Cup winner is an intimidating one.

For some, the blessing of your country's finest player may hang heavily around your neck, especially when you play for the same club the Brazilian legend made famous. But for Neymar, the fame and fortune off the pitch has not held back the flicks and tricks on it.

Anointed the next Brazilian superstar before he'd even played a first-team match, the Santos forward has taken each step in his fledgling career with consummate ease. Making his debut for the Sao Paulo-based club aged only 17, the fleet-footed forward has gone on to score 90 goals in just 168 appearances.

National recognition swiftly followed and after 9 goals in 7 Brazil under-20 games, clamour for a piece of the golden boy reached fever pitch. A 14,000-strong petition attempted to get him a place in Brazil's 2010 World Cup squad but Dunga rejected, a decision the Brazilian coach ultimately paid for with his job after the tournament.

When Neymar did make the step up, he predictably flourished. Following in the footprints of Robinho and Alexander Pato before him, a goal on his debut against the USA and two more against Scotland prompted comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

There's no doubt that on his day he can be one of the most exciting players in the world. Countless step-overs, mazy dribbles and blistering pace combine to leave defenders often trailing helplessly in his wake. But, with so many great young players out there, is he the most exciting young player in world football?

According to a recent poll by GiveMeFootball, the Brazilian striker is the real deal. Beating off competition from the likes of Mario Gotze, Eden Hazard and Jack Wilshere, 42% of voters chose Neymar as the next big thing.

A move across the Atlantic to join his highly-skilled European peers is surely only a matter of time. Chelsea have reportedly had bids rejected in the past and Real Madrid have been heavily linked, while two years ago, a cheeky £12million bid from West Ham was swiftly dismissed by his club.

A third-party agreement with Brazilian investors may ultimately complicate a move to England, but a switch to Madrid or Barcelona has been rumoured and could happen as early as this summer.

While Neymar leads the charge for South American football, the future of the game looks bright in Europe to, with several players aged 21 or younger establishing themselves at top European clubs. Wilshere's injury may have hampered his development this season but the England international still received 18% of the vote and will walk straight back into the Arsenal midfield.

Gunners-target Mario Gotze received 17%, and the Borussia Dortmund player has become an integral part of their midfield still aged only 19. A Bundesliga winners medal and 12 caps for Germany already is testament to his talent, leading Dortmund to reportedly place a £30million valuation on the youngster.

Elsewhere, the top talents in European football largely ply their trade outside the established top divisions. Aside from Wilshere, not many players in the Premier League or La Liga have become established regulars for their sides. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has recently had a run in the Arsenal side and may yet force his way into England's Euro 2012 squad. Thiago Alcantara and Iker Munian fly the flag in Spain but neither has had the impact of an Eden Hazard or Mario Gotze on their teams.

Belgian winger Hazard continues to be linked with a string of English clubs, as does tough-tackling French international Yann M'Vila and should have big futures. Xherdan Shaqiri Basel's side may have been routed by Bayern Munich 7-0 in the Champions League, but next season the Swiss prospect will be lining up for the German club. Shaqiri first came to prominence to English fans with an impressive performance against the Three Lions in 2010, much like Cristian Eriksen, the latest product of the famed Ajax academy. A sharp eye for a pass and great technique has led the Dane to secure a position at the heart of the Dutch club's midfield.

Each of these players, however, fail to match up with the hype surrounding Neymar. Capable of the extraordinary and often delivering the unexpected, Neymar's stock continues to grow both in Brazil and overseas.

He even saw off entries from Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi to win the FIFA Puskas award for goal of the year in 2011 for a remarkable effort in which he slalomed past three defenders before slotting home. It remains to be seen whether he can fulfil the undoubted potential he's shown, and take his place permanently alongside other world-leading stars. It seems most football fans believe he can.

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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